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WHEN SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS STRUGGLING

Focus on these 3 things to make the most of your support.

 

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If you are walking on a path thick with brambles and rocks, a path that abruptly twists and turns, it’s easy to get lost, or tired, or discouraged. You might be tempted to give up entirely. But if a kind and patient person comes along and takes your hand, saying, “I see you’re having a hard time. Here, follow me, I’ll help you find your way,” the path becomes manageable, the journey less frightening.

                           Elyn Saks

When someone you love appears to be struggling with body image concerns, disordered eating behaviors, or another mental health issue, it’s completely natural to feel frightened and unsure of how to approach them. But if you focus on 3 simple things, you can rest assured you’re providing a tremendous level of support:

1. Convey empathy.

As concerned as you are, it’s important to remember that your loved one may be struggling with deep pain and distress, even if they haven’t communicated it. To ensure you convey as much empathy as possible, try the following:

  • plan ahead: even if the situation feels urgent, take time to gather your thoughts and make a plan before you approach your loved one.
  • educate yourself: don’t spend hours(!) on this, but seek out some basic facts about what you’re noticing.
  • be patient + warm: whatever problem your loved one is struggling with, it didn’t crop up overnight; so adjust your expectations to allow for the likelihood that any change will take time. And try your best to convey as much warmth as you can; when we’re worried about a loved one’s safety, there’s a tendency to speak more abruptly or harshly than we intend. Be even kinder than usual.
  • be authentic: the situation is probably complex enough, so don’t overthink this; just recall a time when you were struggling, then speak from the heart.

(For a quick primer on the distinction between empathy and sympathy, check out this sweet animated video set to an excerpt from a Brené Brown talk.)

2. Show respect.

Consider how you would want another person to share their concerns with you. Find a neutral, quiet place where you can talk in private. Respect your loved one’s autonomy, by remembering the following:

  • share specific changes you’ve noticed: you probably have a million thoughts and feelings running through your mind, but do your best to channel retro TV cop Joe Friday and remind yourself: “just the facts, ma’am”. 
  • express concern: this may seem obvious, but once you’ve briefly shared your observations of how your loved one’s behavior has changed, let them know you feel worried/scared/concerned because you care about them.
  • offer your support: this is where your advance preparation comes in. Name 1 or 2 specific ways you could help (e.g., “If you’d like to talk with a counselor, I can help you find one, and make an appointment, or go with you and hang in the reception room.”) Avoid general offers (e., “If there’s ever anything I can do…”); though well-intended, these can feel overwhelming, especially to someone who’s struggling.
  • avoid threats, ultimatums, or advice-giving: attempts to force or coerce another person into taking a specific action (e.g., “This ends right now,” “If you don’t get help I’ll never speak to you again”) usually backfires, and can cause more harm than good. Focus only on what you can control; the rest is up to your loved one.

(If a situation is potentially life-threatening, seek help immediately by calling 911. Consult additional mental health resources as needed.)

3. Set boundaries.

Perhaps the hardest part of witnessing a loved one’s struggle is acknowledging the limits to how you can help. Even if you’re the most important person in your loved one’s life, the responsibility for their well-being ultimately rests with them. Once you’ve done what you can, turn the focus back to you:

  • get plenty of rest: holding worry and fear for another person can be exhausting; make sure you’re attending to your own basic needs.

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  • consider talking to a counselor: if you have concerns of your own you want to discuss, or you’d just like to consult with a professional about how best to provide support, there is no shame whatsoever in seeking help.
  • send prayers and/or good vibes: this doesn’t have to be elaborate or formal. If it feels right to you, concentrate on your loved one and visualize everything you want for them, then trust that all will be well.
  • and lastly…

…know that your care, concern, and friendship are powerful gifts. Of all the issues your loved one may be facing, one common theme is a feeling of isolation and disconnection. So, no matter how nervous you may feel raising your concerns out loud, and no matter how awkward or hopeless or overwhelming the situation might seem, YOU are a powerful gift to them at a challenging time.

Remember that, and you’ll be OK.


Want all this summarized in an INFOGRAPHIC? Click image to download:

And here’s a handy PLANNER to help you support the folks in your life:


what experiences have you had with helping a loved one who was struggling?

share in the comments below!


HI!  I’M MICHAELA. 

I help women love + care for their bodies, through simple daily practices that anyone can learn. After spending over a decade studying, researching, and teaching body image + mental health principles, I started Wild & Precious to empower women to make the most of their lives by making real and lasting peace with themselves. I share practical guidance so you and your family can free up time + energy for the people + things you’re most passionate about… and actually have fun along the way.

10 Comments
  1. Bel says:

    I love how detailed this is. You thought of everything. I’m impressed. I love everything you did here

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      Thanks so much, Bel! I’m glad it’s helpful.

  2. Margaret says:

    I think that this post is super important for so many people to read. Also it is applicable to so many different situations, whether it be body image, health issues, or mental health. These are really helpful suggestions on how to approach this kind of situation. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      Thanks very much, Margaret! I really appreciate it.

  3. Steve says:

    Ok, first before I say anything, I just was to say your blog is SO awesome. Beyond your writing (which is very good) the way you layout the blog, the picture you chose, how insightful and encouraging your content is… listen, I’m just saying, I’m very impressed 🙂

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      What a lovely compliment, Steve! Thank you!

  4. Rosie Bates says:

    This kind of information is just what people need to know, especially when it happens unexpectedly. Thank you!

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      My pleasure, Rosie. Thank you for reading!

  5. Ella says:

    This is SO encouraging. Thanks for sharing x

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      That’s wonderful to hear, Ella. Thanks for reading!

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